Season of the Witch stumbles out of the gates and continues down that path to a mediocre finale that spoils a decent twist with underwhelming special effects and clichés. The acting alone should have floated this period farce by director Dominic Sena, but it feels like Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman are rowing against each other; Cage plods while Perlman charms and conjures laughter. The real shame is that this was filmed on beautiful foreign lands and briefly utilizes wonderfully gothic sets, yet is rather boring save for a thrilling albeit cheesy bridge-crossing scene. The fact that crossing a bridge is a high point in a sword and sorcery film should set off warning signs, but if you are still under Season of the Witch’s spell, hit the jump for the full review.
Behman (Cage) and Felson (Perlman) are inseparable 14th century Crusaders that slay hundreds of heathens and have a raucous time doing so. When Behman has a sudden epiphany that occurs when he kills an innocent villager, the duo effectively quit the Crusading gig and return to Behman’s village. Decimated by a mysterious plague, the surrounding area blames an accused witch (Claire Foy). When Behman and Felson are discovered and thrown in jail for deserting the Crusades, they reluctantly accept the task of transporting the girl to a faraway church that will remove the curse for good. The duo is joined by a righteous priest, a heralded knight, a dim-witted guide, and a brave altar boy with misguided dreams of knighthood. However, the journey won’t be easy and the question remains whether the girl is even a witch at all, or if this will be more innocent blood spilled in the name of God.
Director Dominic Sena is tasked with putting all of this together within a 95 minute, PG-13 framework. To save time, the Crusading portion is done mostly in a slowed-down visual montage of battle after battle and has one of the first unintentionally hilarious moments. To separate Perlman and Cage visually from themselves and the other fighters, they don some of the worst helmets I have seen in a period film; Perlman’s has a frumpy, squashed look at the top while Cage’s is overlarge. This essentially sets the tone for the film; where certain moments could have been serious or thrilling, they often opt for silly. Everything has a B-movie tone but Season of the Witch never fully embraces the silliness; things are often unintentionally hilarious, including the forced Shakespearean dialog to remind viewers that the wagons, swords, and castles aren’t the only thing setting this as a 14th century road film.
The production quality of the sets and scenery are one of the few redeeming qualities of Season of the Witch. Filmed in Austria, Croatia, and Hungary, we are rewarded with beautiful landscapes and castles that look appropriate to the time and set the epic nature of the tale. The dark hues and natural lighting help the dreary mood, and the ghastly depiction of the plague furthers it. However, corners were clearly cut on a few of the CGI elements, especially the finale. There is even a nice twist to set up the final act that upon reflection doesn’t change the trajectory of the plot, but provides a twist nonetheless. While the sets, location, and lighting are highlights, the editing of the fight scenes often render them difficult to follow. The sword play feels well-choreographed, but someone had too many angles to play with and much of it is lost in the shuffle.
Logic is also hit or miss at times, but the supporting cast manages to trudge through the story without sinking. Claire Foy as “The Girl” shines with a wicked sense of dark humor and toying omniscience. Meanwhile, Perlman has a number of one-liners that lighten the mood and keep things fun. That’s when Cage comes in like the friend that wants to join the fun and tells a joke that often rings hollow. Not helping his cause is the sudden changes his character makes; why would he decide to help out the church after declaring them morally corrupt and inept? If you don’t catch the five second epiphany, you may never know.
Despite the general lack of fun, I harbor no resentment towards Season of the Witch. There are a number of missing elements that keeps things from ever becoming more than mediocre–namely a sensible plot–but the film never topples over the edge towards walk-out bad. The film is even thankfully short. However, that is not enough for me to ever recommend it. One of the more remarkable feats of Season of the Witch is that Cage’s hair made me gasp at first sight, but by the end I felt it worked; I just wish I could say the same for the film.